South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Friday that his country and Japan can open up a new future together if the two continue to build trust and solve difficult challenges left over by history.

Yoon's remarks, made at a government ceremony to commemorate the 1919 independence movement against Japan's colonial rule, came after Tokyo last month lodged a protest with Seoul over the transfer of money deposited by a Japanese firm with a court to give to a South Korean plaintiff in a wartime labor lawsuit.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol gives a speech at a ceremony commemorating the March 1 Independence Movement in Seoul on March 1, 2024. (Yonhap/Kyodo)

The president did not refer to wartime forced labor issues stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, and stressed that the two countries have become partners based on shared values and the pursuit of common interests.

"If Korea and Japan build trust through mutual exchanges and cooperation, and work together to resolve difficult challenges that history has left us, we will be able to usher in a new, brighter future for our bilateral relationship," Yoon said at the ceremony in Seoul.

Bilateral ties hit a low after South Korea's Supreme Court in 2018 upheld orders in separate judgments against Nippon Steel Corp., then named Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., requiring that they pay damages for forced labor during the colonial era.

But relations have improved since Yoon's administration announced a plan in March last year to compensate South Korean plaintiffs of the lawsuits and other wartime labor cases with money from a South Korean government-backed fund.

Japan has maintained that all issues related to the colonial era were "completely and finally" resolved under a 1965 bilateral agreement.

On Feb. 20 this year, a Seoul court transferred money deposited by Japanese firm Hitachi Zosen Corp. to a South Korean citizen who won a wartime labor case against the firm, after it failed to comply with an order issued by the top court in December to compensate the plaintiff.

The Japanese engineering corporation's funds were deposited to the Seoul Central District Court to prevent the company's assets in South Korea from being seized and liquidated to compensate the plaintiff.

Japan's Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassador of South Korea the following day in protest of the move.

During his speech at the March 1 Independence Movement commemoration, Yoon also talked about the heightening tensions on the peninsula due to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats, reiterating the importance of security cooperation with Japan.

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